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MSF continues to expand its operations in deeply affected areas of Iraq, such as Anbar province, in order to provide essential medical care to the most vulnerable.
Spanning the Euphrates River, Bzeibiz Bridge links the Iraqi capital, Baghdad, to Anbar province. MSF operates a primary health care centre on the Baghdad side of Bzeibiz Bridge in the impoverished neighbourhood that bears the same name. The clinic is made up of two main components: an emergency unit open 24/7 and a day clinic. The emergency unit usually treats minor injuries, injuries related to road traffic accidents and ischemic diseases, such as cardiovascular incidents. The MSF clinic serves the Bzeibiz area, including the four camps hosting internally displaced people (IDPs) and nearby communities from Sadr city. Across the bridge to the west, in Amriyat al-Fallujah, a few dozen kilometres away from embattled Fallujah, MSF is running mobile clinics in various IDP camps and is working to expand its operations.
Dr Zeyd is one of the founders of the primary health care centre in Bzeibiz, together with Dr. Wameedh. They have been managing the eight-month-old structure that serves a population of more than 52,000 people. Dr Zeyd said that the quality of the healthcare provided and the direct contact with patients make his work with MSF enjoyable. In addition to treating injuries and common illnesses, the clinic also has in place a referral system for more serious cases that need more specialised medical care or hospitalisation. To date, 215 patients with non-communicable diseases have been enrolled in care, with hypertension and diabetes figuring among the top illnesses. Dr Zeyd confesses that he has difficulty coping with sights of poverty and misery. “Poverty is painful,” he says. “Sometimes you do everything you can to help a patient but the treatment fails due to the living conditions they find themselves in. What can you do for a diabetic patient who has no fridge to keep their insulin shots?” Dr. Zeyd asked.
The MSF mobile clinic is parked in one of the IDP camps of Habbaniyah Tourist City in the Amariyat al-Fallujah area, around 30 kilometers from Fallujah. At some point in the not-so-distant past, Habbaniyah, home to the large Lake Habbaniyah, was tipped to become a top tourist attraction outside Baghdad. Today, the city’s 300-plus room hotel has been used by IDP families fleeing violence in Fallujah and Ramadi. Lake Habbaniyah serves as the main water reservoir, but is also the place where sewage is dumped. In July 2016, MSF’s mobile clinic had conducted a total of 1921 consultations in IDP camps in the Amriyat al-Fallujah area, treating patients for conditions such as upper respiratory tract infections, urinary tract infections and gastric disorders.
Dr Saja attends to Wazah, who was bitten by a scorpion that sneaked into her tent in Habbaniyah. Dr Saja has been with MSF for almost one year now; she says that the reward is immense every time an MSF project is implemented. She was a member of the team that oversaw the establishment of the Bzeibiz clinic and later a member of the mobile clinic team in Anbar. Dr Saja makes sure that her patients get the attention they need and that their basic rights are respected. She says that the gratitude that the patients express is priceless. The young doctor is terribly touched by the sight of sick children who are unable to leave the camp to seek medical care for economic and security reasons. “Imagine that these people find solace in a mobile clinic,” Dr Saja says.
Dr Zaidoun says he enjoys his work at the mobile clinic MSF has been running in the IDP camps of the Amriyat al-Fallujah area more so than his previous work at one of the hospitals in Baghdad. He cherishes field work and the proximity to patients. “I am glad that we come to offer help to those in need and whose mobility might be highly restricted due to the security situation,” he says. Dr Zaidoun says the cases of injured and maimed children he sees as a result of the conflict in Iraq are the most heartbreaking.
Dr Ali joined MSF only two months ago and is now a member of the mobile clinic MSF runs in the Anbar province. He says that what strikes him the most are the difficult living conditions of displaced families. “Some of them visit the mobile clinic to be in the cool for a mere five minutes,” says Dr. Ali. The months of July and August witnessed extended heat waves in Iraq.
Thirteen-year-old Sahar is originally from Fallujah. She was badly injured when a missile targeted her neighbourhood. The Fallujah hospital lacks the physiotherapy services she needs, as she can’t bend her knee and has relied on crutches for months know. “I would like to be able to walk again and I would like to the pain to stop,” the young girl says. Sahar says that most of her nights are sleepless because the pain is unbearable.
Children waiting for their turn to see the doctor usually flock around Abdul-Majeed, the patient flow manager at the MSF clinic in Habbaniyah, who knows how to appease them and calm them before their consultations. Most suffer from upper respiratory tract infections and skin diseases; their parents blame the water available in the camp for most of their health ailments. About 100 litres of water is distributed per person, per day; it comes from a plant in Habbaniyah Tourist City that treats water with a reverse osmosis device.